Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei, owner of the new world record in women’s marathon, with Paula Radcliffe of UK who held the previous record, at the 2019 Chicago Marathon (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Victory completes a Kenyan sweep of world records in the marathon

Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei has set a new world record in the women’s marathon.

She won the 2019 Chicago Marathon in two hours, 14 minutes, four seconds (2:14:04) bringing the curtains down on the previous 16-year-old record of 2:15:25 held by Paula Radcliffe of UK.  Radcliffe had her record-making run at the 2003 London Marathon. Kosgei’s performance is naturally a new course record for Chicago Marathon. Interestingly, the previous course record of 2:17:18 was also held by Radcliffe.

Ethiopia’s Ababel Yeshaneh came in second in the women’s race, finishing nearly seven minutes behind Kosgei in 2:20:51. Gelete Burka also of Ethiopia finished in third position in 2:20:55.

In the men’s race, Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono was the winner with timing of 2:05:45. He was followed by Ethiopian Dejene Debela who finished in 2:05:46. In third position was another Ethiopian runner, Asefa Mengstu who finished in 2:05:48.

Defending champion Mo Farah of UK finished in eighth position clocking 2:09:58.

Galen Rupp of the US, returning to a major race after a long gap due to surgery, was forced to pull out, a report in Runners World said.

With her victory and world record of October 13 in Chicago, Kosgei has helped effect a Kenyan sweep of world records in the marathon.  The men’s record – 2:01:39 is held by Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge who touched that mark at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. The women’s half marathon record (1:04:51) belongs to Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei (1:04:51 set in Valencia, Spain) , while the same in the men’s category (58: 01, set at the 2019 Copenhagen Half Marathon) is held by Geoffrey Kamworor, also of Kenya.

The new women’s world record is just a day after Eliud Kipchoge ran an unofficial timing of 1:59:40 – the first time anyone ran the marathon in under two hours – at an event custom-built for the purpose.

Kosgei was in the news early September 2019 for setting a new course record in the women’s half marathon at the 2019 Great North Run in UK (this event held every September in north east England is the largest half marathon in the world). She covered the distance in one hour, four minutes and 28 seconds (1:04:28), shattering the previous record held by Mary Keitany (1:05:39 / also of Kenya) by more than a minute. Kosgei’s course record was better than the existing world record – 1:04:51 – held by Jepkosgei. However owing to technical reasons, the new mark couldn’t be considered for a world record. The problem lay in the Great North Run’s course. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had noted, “ as a point-to-point course and slightly downhill, it’s not valid for record purposes, but that shouldn’t take away from the performance by the 25-year-old Kenyan who dominated the race from the outset.’’

Prior to 2019 Great North Run, Kosgei was known best for her finishes at the Chicago and London marathons. She placed second among women in the 2017 Chicago Marathon, second in the 2018 London Marathon, first in the 2018 Chicago Marathon and first in the 2019 London Marathon.

Paula Radcliffe is one of the greatest runners in the women’s marathon. Her longstanding world record had unique significance in India. While the Indian national record in the men’s marathon is 2:12:00, set by the late Shivnath Singh in 1978, it has remained an enigma and a tough target for the current generation of marathoners to match. Realizing the gap between their performance and the national record and world beating performances, Radcliffe’s world record – 2:15:25 – had served as intermediate goal for some of the country’s elite marathoners.

In a conversation with this blog in November 2017, Indian elite marathoner Nitendra Singh Rawat had spoken of focusing on Radcliffe’s world record as a realistic goal to accomplish while he was preparing for the 2016 Rio Olympics. In that phase, at the 2016 Mumbai Marathon, Nitendra touched 2:15:48 (a new course record), very close to Radcliffe’s record; he eventually surpassed it with the 2:15:18 achieved at the 2016 South Asian Games in Guwahati. T. Gopi completed the marathon at the 2016 Rio Olympics in 2:15:25. He went on to clock 2:13:39 at the 2019 Seoul International Marathon.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)